The Signal Mountain Town Council plans to postpone making any decisions on Town Manager Boyd Veal's request for the removal of a monument to C.E. James, the town's founder and first mayor, and the renaming of James Park located at the town's entrance.
Veal sent a letter to councilors requesting the monument removal and name change after discovering a deed covenant from the Mountain Land Co., owned by James and his family, that restricted transfer of property in the town to any "negro, mulatto or person of color." He read the letter aloud during the council's July 27 meeting, and the topic was placed as a discussion item on the agenda for the council's Aug. 10 meeting.
Several residents spoke in opposition to the monument removal and park renaming, including James' great-nephew George Davenport.
"What I'd like to know is, why are we doing this and what do we expect to accomplish by doing anything other than saying 'Yes, that's the way it was?' Davenport asked. "I think that you all need to consider the people in this community, what they're proud of and think about what will happen if you do something like this to all of the people who take pride in Signal Mountain and its heritage."
James Boulevard resident Brad Case expressed his disapproval of the council taking action on Veal's requests, since Veal's opinion of James' action was based on restrictive covenants that were commonplace during the time the town was founded.
"All different counties and cities all across this country — not just the South, the North, too — did the same thing," said Case of restrictive deed covenants. "Are we to erase all of this, in every city and every town, change their name, move all their monuments I don't think so. I have never seen any type of protest to the James monument."
Town resident Erin Goddard said the town cannot change its history, but it can consider changing the symbols that are used to represent it.
"I believe that symbols and actions can be partners creating a future in which everyone who wants to be a part of this community can do so fully and freely," said Goddard, whose family is multiracial. "What I'm asking you as town council is to be proactive in organizing us as a community, as a town, in having these long, long overdue conversations and in educating ourselves and in planning so that we can be a place and a people that we can all be proud to be."
Mayor Dan Landrum asked that the discussion be postponed for several months so he can continue to meet with C.E. James' great-grandson Stuart James, who Landrum said has several positive ideas on how to handle the situation.
Councilwoman Susannah Murdock, a lifelong resident of the town, said that after much research into C.E. James' history and that of racially restrictive clauses in property clauses, she opposes removing the monument or renaming James Park. For that reason, as well as the current pandemic that prevents the council from meeting in person and the November election in which three council seats could be filled by new members, she agreed with Landrum's suggestion to postpone the discussion.
Veal said his intention in making the requests related to the James monument and park was to spark discussion.
"It's not as much about the past as it is ultimately trying to impact the future," said Veal, a third-generation resident who previously served as the town's police chief. "We need to do something to change that process [of exclusion stated in the property deeds]. It needs to be something overt and intentional."
No legislation has been proposed related to the removal of the James monument or renaming of James Park, but the council plans to resume discussion in several months.
Contact Emily Crisman at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @EmCrisman.
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